Effective communication and effective leadership are closely intertwined. Small business leaders need to be skilled communicators in countless situations and relationships, both inside and outside of their organizations. This is more challenging than ever in a hyper-connected business environment characterized by a rapid flow of information between colleagues, customers, suppliers, and other stakeholders.
Although communication is far more complex than it was just a decade ago, great leaders know that the fundamentals of effective communication remain unchanged. They express ideas clearly and honestly and can seamlessly adapt to a multitude of audiences. They excel at connecting with people on both an intellectual and an emotional level, informing and inspiring others to action.
Learning to communicate effectively is a critical step to becoming a respected and influential leader. Here are some of the keys to improving your skills and engaging with others in ways that will earn their trust, respect, and loyalty.
Know Your Audience
Great communicators don’t worry about sounding important or showing off their expertise. They are concerned about what people need to hear and how they can deliver this message effectively. They take the time to understand their audience so they can tailor their message or adapt their communication style as needed, thereby increasing the chances of being effective.
This doesn’t mean that good leaders tell people what they want to hear. They tell people what’s important for them to know, which means having the courage to be straightforward even when delivering bad news.
People want to do business with, work for, and purchase products or services from companies that are built on a foundation of honesty and integrity. The best leaders know that for communication to be effective, it has to be genuine.
Great communicators understand that honesty builds trust. They avoid being ambiguous, opting instead to speak directly about how things are and how they need to be. They give clear, concise directions so employees do not spin their wheels or head in the wrong direction. They do not steal the spotlight and give credit where it is due. When they are not in a position to share information, they say so and explain why. They are well aware that miscommunication and half-truths erode trust and create fear and anxiety.
Speak Less, Listen More
The Pareto Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of results will come from 20% of the action. Successful leaders know that what they hear is often more important than what they say, and that effective communication requires 80% listening and 20% talking. Instead of planning what they are going to say next, they actively listen and focus on understanding the other person’s perspective.
One of the best ways to encourage open and honest communication is to model active listening. Make sure communication is a two-way street, and don’t assume that the message people heard is the one you intended to deliver. Allow ample opportunity for people to ask questions, provide feedback, and express their concerns. When someone is speaking to you, keep an open mind and ask follow-up questions to show that you’re paying attention. This practice builds rapport, understanding, and trust between you and your audience and/or employees.
According to the Dale Carnegie Global Leadership Study, 84% of employees believe inspiring leaders have the humility to admit their mistakes. Great leaders model accountability for their words and actions, knowing that sharing both their professional successes and failures is equally valuable to their teams and business colleagues.
Leaders with the best communication skills are quick to share unpleasant news in a timely manner. This is essential when communicating with today’s savvy customers and clients who know when they are being misled. They will respect you and your business more if you are up front about mistakes or your inability to deliver what they want.
Prioritizing transparent, fair, and respectful communication with individuals and within teams is one of the best strategies for cultivating loyalty and boosting employee performance. Instead of using your authority or fear of failure as motivation, focus on bringing a positive and supportive approach to problem solving. When it comes to enhancing staff engagement and productivity, it is critical that company leaders communicate the message that people are essential members of the team and fundamental to the organization’s success.
Have an Open Door
Effective leaders follow basic communication strategies when it comes to staying engaged with all of their employees. This means using tools ranging from face-to-face meetings and video conferencing to cloud-based project management and collaboration platforms.
Regardless of how high-tech a vehicle you use, success lies in making yourself available to your employees and welcoming their input. Having an “open door” policy doesn’t mean your door is literally always open. What matters is that your people know they can come to you with issues or suggestions and you will be willing to listen.
Connected bosses keep their teams well informed. This involves consistently providing updates on company news, policies, and procedures as well as incorporating regular feedback into your workplace operations. In addition to formal evaluations, give positive feedback during meetings or while you walk around the office. Meet with staff for a few minutes each week to discuss their projects and progress. Telling your employees how they’re doing throughout the year will help keep them motivated and committed to contributing to your company’s success.
Developing effective communication skills is an ongoing practice. The more you use them, the more they will improve your leadership abilities, your reputation, and your business.
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